Disclaimer—Characters belong to Aaron Sorkin. No copyright infringement intended. Any similarity to events or persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Author's Notes—To the Sirens, something you'll like better. ;) Thanks for the beta, ladies. Couldn't do this without you. *G* To the Samurai, thanks so much. And I swore I wouldn't do a post-ep to this... I mean, I absolutely *swore* I wouldn't write one. *ahem* I wrote one.

Spoilers—In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, The Fall's Going to Kill You

Feedback—Always greatly appreciated.

Archive—Sure. Just tell me where you put it.

Near Mrs.—Lessons learned... the hard way.

The thing about disease is that, if you're not a doctor, you really don't understand it. I mean, I've been diagnosed with asthma since I was a kid and I really don't know all that much about it except that if I don't take my medication, I have this really bad tendency to not be able to breathe. So, somehow, some way, the medication I take helps me breathe.

The thing about marriage is... I don't think you ever understand it. Even if you are married. When I was thinking about proposing to my long-time girlfriend, I had no idea what I was getting into so I went and talked to all my married or engaged friends. Okay, no, there weren't that many of them. But I sought out their counsel... and the counsel of their significant others... and called my parents about twelve times.

Somebody said marriage isn't like a ball and chain, it's like being handcuffed for all eternity.

Somebody said marriage is something you don't jump into lightly. She married her husband after knowing him only two weeks, so I think there might be something to that... especially when I heard they were finally filing for divorce after six years.

Somebody said that marriages are like workouts. They hurt like hell but you like the results, so you keep torturing yourself... and torturing yourself... and torturing yourself... And torturing yourself. I never liked that analogy, but, y'know, that was what somebody told me.

Somebody else said that marriages are sacred bonds... bonds you can never break... Or, if you do, be discreet about it.

Some friends I have, huh?

My parents were much nicer and much more optimistic. They'd known Lisa almost as long as I had and know that I love her with all of my heart. Or, did.

See, what nobody tells you is how to react to certain... bombshells. Lisa was beautiful. A gorgeous blonde bombshell with a heart of pure gold. I know what you're thinking: airhead. No. Not in the slightest. She had a bachelors from Harvard and a masters from Yale in chemistry. She was studying for her doctorate when I found her and gave it up, saying she was burned out. I think she left because she didn't want to be going to George Washington University when I was flying up to New York to take a new job at Gage Whitney in Manhattan. At any rate, she moved to New York with me when I stopped staffing on Capitol Hill.

It was sad, when we moved. I mean, I love D.C. I still do. I thought I had to do something else, though. I had studied corporate law; I might as well use those skills before I died, right? I thought I was doing something I needed to be doing. Spreading my wings, seeing what else there was for me in life... God, I hated corporate law. Going to work day after day after day in an office that I hated... How could I stand the subject at Duke? I'm still not sure.

Anyway, the day before we moved, my buddy Josh threw this huge party. It was great. I'm surprised we didn't get arrested for being drunk and disorderly or something, but we had a fantastic time. He cornered me away from Lisa, though, and said the strangest things. It didn't make sense at the time, but it made sense several months later.

"Sam," he said, "you'll call me if you need anything, right?"

"Yeah, sure. Of course! And, you'll have to come visit us in New York."

"I'm serious, man. Call me if you or Lisa get into any trouble or need help."

"And you'll come rushing up to New York and our rescue?" I asked, laughing. I was drunk; sue me.

"In a heartbeat," he said seriously.

Now, to understand the strangeness of this, you have to understand Josh Lyman. Josh Lyman cannot hold his liquor. Period. I mean, the guy is really great, but he's a lousy drunk. Normally one of those falling down drunks who is relatively amusing for a while but gets old quickly. He wasn't tripping over nonexistent debris. He wasn't slurring his words. He wasn't looking at me with those playful eyes of his, but rather the somber expression of a guy who was just given the death sentence.

I told him I would and he didn't seem satisfied. He made me promise to call if either of us got sick, if either of us needed anything, from five dollars to pay the rent to a privately chartered jet. He was making *no* sense. I thought maybe I had judged him wrong and that he really was drunk. Lisa came up to me, though, and pulled me away from Josh. I made the promise over my shoulder as we went to open a going away present all of Lisa's classmates had chipped in to buy for us.

A couple months later, sitting in one of New York's swankier restaurants, I pulled one of those velvet jewelry boxes out of my suit coat pocket. Lisa's eyes grew wide, and then she cried. Hard. She had to excuse herself from the table. She didn't take the ring. I was sitting there wondering what the hell I had done, what could be wrong. The only thing I was coming up with was that she really didn't love me. We had been living together for almost a year, first in D.C. and then in New York. I thought we were happy, I thought... I guess I thought wrong. I sat at the table for a good forty-five minutes to an hour and didn't *move*. Everyone in the restaurant had seen what I had done, and Lisa's reaction to it, so they pretty much left me alone for that time. Lisa eventually showed back up at the table. Her eyes were red and she had redone her makeup. Smiling through more tears, she held her left hand out to me and said one word: yes.

As weird as Josh's making me promise him before leaving D.C., it couldn't compare to Lisa's reaction to my proposal. I was dumbfounded that she came back and slipped the ring on her finger. We wound up getting a standing ovation from the other restaurant-goers.

We made wedding plans but we didn't ever talk about her reaction again. Never. Until, that is, the day Josh showed up in New York, telling me he was on his way to Nashua, New Hampshire. Josh's face, when I told him Lisa and I were getting married... It was almost like I told him his cat had died. Not that he likes cats, but... At any rate, it was weird. I finally had to have a sit down conversation with Lisa about this.

We hashed for hours when she got home from work. Turns out... Turns out she had a form of slow-growing cancer. Inoperable. Untreatable. Fatal. Josh knew. They met at Harvard their first year, turned into best buddies. They went on to Yale together, and then when Josh headed to Washington, she went, too. He wanted to look out for her, protect her somehow. When I came into the picture, Josh relinquished his protection of her to me, all without my knowledge of it, of course. She had always meant to tell me. Always. She never did, though. Not until we sat down and I asked her, point blank, what was going on.

I didn't know what to do. I felt just as lost as Josh told me he was feeling. I went to work the next day, I argued in the meeting. I pushed so damn hard, not only because it was the right thing to do, but because I had to believe that I still had a hold of something important in my life. I had to believe that I was still in control. I wasn't. Not until Josh showed up at the door. Corporate law forgotten, I jumped back into politics... headfirst.

I didn't know what I was getting into. And I didn't know what to do about Lisa. I went home to tell her. I thought maybe things would be okay. We'd still get married; we'd live out our lives as long as we could...

Didn't happen. Unlocking the door to our apartment, I looked around anxiously. Pictures were taken down from the walls. The blanket that we had over the back of the couch was gone. The lamp that was in the kitchen was gone. Her closet had been cleaned out. There was a note on the bed, where her pillow used to sit. It only had two words on it: I'm sorry.

That was three, four years ago. And now I sit here... listening to President Bartlet tell me the same thing, only it's not cancer, it's MS. "I'm sorry, Sam. I should have told you earlier."

I lost the woman I loved to something like this. I'm not going to lose my President to it.

"Are you all right, sir?"

"I'm not having a flare up or anything right now, no. I'm fine."

"Good."

I don't argue with him. I don't yell. I certainly don't feel as though I'm in control again, but it's his disease, not Lisa's. Things'll turn out differently this time; they have to. I'd like to think I learned something from my near Mrs.

End.

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